Feature – L.A.B. Golf & Sam Hahn

Feature – L.A.B. Golf & Sam Hahn

If you have ever picked up a golf club, then you have undoubtedly, at some point, questioned why you even play this stupid game. The ebbs and flows of consistent play can be downright cruel at times. One of the main things I hear, especially from amateurs, is bellyaching about short game woes … and, more often than not, those woes surround the flatstick.

The legendary Ben Hogan once famously said: “There is no similarity between golf and putting. They are two different games, one is played in the air, and the other is on the ground.” 

If you have spent any time on the golf course, then you know how accurate this is. Sam Hahn, an Oregon music industry stalwart and current club owner, spent most of his 20s playing music and working in the club scene. This night-owl lifestyle with free afternoons led him to the game of golf, where he went from beginner to scratch player in just under three years. Despite his early success playing the game, Hahn was always a tinkerer, especially when it came to equipment, constantly playing with different setups, especially putters, trying to find that extra edge. An admitted “nerd,” Hahn went through putter after putter after putter trying to find an answer. 

After a near-religious experience using a wand from Directed Force, Hahn thought he had possibly found his answer. But after his new favorite flatstick broke, he reached out to the company for a replacement … which set in motion one of the strangest and most interesting equipment stories in the game today. 

L.A.B. Golf, which is rapidly becoming one of the most talked about putter companies in the game, is revolutionizing putter fittings and how we think about rolling the rock. Although at first glance, these monstrosities can be startling to stand over, there is little doubt the technology behind them is starting to gather a following … and not just among amateurs who struggle on the greens. Players on multiple tours are starting to take notice, beginning a few years ago when Adam Scott began playing one. Since, several other professionals have been seen using L.A.B. creations, including Will Zalatoris, Lucas Glover, Camilo Villegas and, more recently, Phil Mickelson, who was spotted at Augusta stroking the new DF3 model. 

Obviously, there is something to this technology, and AVIDGOLFER spoke to Hahn about his golf obsession, how it transformed his game … and how it just may do the same for you. 

AVIDGOLFER: You started off working in the bar and music industries; is that right?

Sam Hahn: I have been in the bar and music business for over 20 years now. I started as a musician myself, then I managed a small venue in Eugene, and I opened up my own place in 2012, which I still have. 

AG: So, I am assuming, based on your schedule working nights, that left your days pretty free to play golf. Is it safe to say that’s how you started playing?

SH: That’s exactly right. I had plenty of time during the day. When I was 20 or 21, I couldn’t break 90. There was a municipal right next to where I lived that was dog friendly, and I would take my dog with me to play. We would play 18, sometimes 36, or sometimes even more in a day. Eventually, I met a couple guys that were pretty good, and then I started playing a lot then. From there I think I was a scratch player by the time I was 23. 

AG: How did L.A.B. Golf come to be? I hear a broken club and a chance encounter set this thing in motion.

SH: I was always interested in equipment. I had so many putters, and I was always tweaking them and bending them to see if I could improve how they performed. A guy named Bob Duncan introduced me to the Reno 2.1 putter made by Directed Force. I had a profound experience with it on the course, and then unfortunately the head fell off. I sent it back and Bill Pressey, the inventor and founder of Directed Force, reached out to apologize, and we really hit it off.  A few months later, Directed Force was about to close their doors because they just couldn’t get things to take off. So, my brother, father and I pulled some cash together and bought out Bill’s existing partners. We partnered with Bill, rebranded as L.A.B. and here we are. 

AG: When you decided to do this, what was your vision, what did your R&D process look like and how has that changed from then to now?

SH: The plan as I saw it was built around that technology that Bill created. The technology was already there. As far as I am concerned, Bill’s technology was one of the most insane and remarkable in the history of golf. But the golf industry is littered with tech like that which never makes it to the public because there is more that goes into it. You have to get it to the right people, you have to market it properly, you have to serve the customers properly and, in today’s world, you have to maximize the direct-to-consumer model. I knew that would be key because it is so hard to get into the big stores. In my mind, the golf industry has yet to fully leverage social media and embrace that direct-to-consumer model the way other industries have. I thought that was the best path forward, rather than wait for some of the big box stores to come calling. 

AG: Okay, so for those of us who may not be familiar with the technology of a L.A.B. putter, explain the lie-angle-balancing to us like we’re five-years-old. There is no twisting in the face, is that the basic gist of it?

SH: I am going to assume you are older than five and you have used a putter before. We have all felt it when you pick up a traditional putter. One of the first things fitters determine when you get a putter fitting is whether you should use a putter with a lot of toe hang or a face-balanced putter. When you pick up one of the traditional offerings, all twist and require some manipulation of the hands to steady the head. What Bill did was come up with an idea that balanced the head, so it’s balanced in the playing position. As long as you keep the shaft on plane with a L.A.B. putter, the face isn’t going to fight you. 

AG: I think we could agree that, at face value, some of the L.A.B. putters can be a little startling to look at. What might you say to someone who might be say, a Scottie Cameron guy or a TaylorMade Spider fan, to get them to try the L.A.B. putter?

SH: It is honestly two different responses to those two different putters. To the traditional Newport guy, I would tell them that beauty is what makes the ball go in the hole, and Karsten Solheim stood on the side of PGA TOUR putting greens for two years with everyone in golf swearing they would never use anything as ugly and absurd as the Ping Answer. After a while, it really started making people hole more putts, and now 60 years later, it is the gold standard of beauty. I would say the same thing about our putters, and if you read our customer experiences, it is a similar thing. At first, most were hesitant to buy it, but the results are so significant that it starts to look pretty. I was hesitant to use one of them, but once you start making putts, it really looks pretty to you. Beauty is a totally subjective thing, and when people in the golf world talk about aesthetics as though they are being objective, they aren’t. One’s experience has plenty to do with how they feel about a product. 

AG: Safe to say there is a marketing aspect to it, as well?

SH: Sure. What we’re told looks good has a lot to do with it. When I used to go to demo days myself, someone would come up and tell me that the L.A.B. was way too crazy, but he would have a TaylorMade Spider in his hand. If a Spider eight years ago had L.A.B. on it, people would have thought it was crazy, too. But TaylorMade is a trusted brand, so they are more open to something unconventional rather than a relative no-name brand with a crooked grip and a bulbous-looking tush. But if you look at our customer reviews, most customers think it’s the prettiest thing they have ever seen. 

AG: How did some of the more traditional companies with massive research and development budgets not ever come up with this technology?

SH: I wonder how nobody came up with this every single day of my life. I think the answer is because it is really complicated. There have been some companies that have come up with some toe-up models that are close to what we do, but what Bill did was just 10 steps further. 

AG: Well, what is stopping them now from trying to come in and replicate your technology?

SH: Number one, we have some intellectual property patents on both the grip and the way we balance the putters. Second, to really do it properly, to really balance every aspect, lie angle, length, grip and shaft, all of which impact the balance, make it a real pain in the ass to do. They are really hard to make, and it’s a long process. When you have these traditional companies that have been around for decades, they have a specific way they manufacture them to get them on the shelves. So for them to start trying to replicate what we do, they would literally need new buildings and new facilities and new teams to manufacture something similar to what we make. 

AG: Your putters are starting to get some traction on multiple tours, including the PGA TOUR. Are you actively reaching out to pros to try to get one in their hands, or are they reaching out to you?

SH: Early on, it was definitely the former. We had to work hard to get people excited about it. We actually caught a lucky break very early on. To get our tour credential, we had a journeyman New Zealander named Tim Wilkinson that picked one up in a pro shop and started using it, unbeknownst to us. When I first partnered in the company, the first thing I did was contact the Tour to try to get credentials. To get credentials, you need to be invited by a player or have your product in play in Tour competition, and since Tim was using it, we were able to get credentialed. Once we got the credential, we were just kind of hanging around out there, and it was rough. One of the breaks we got was at the Barracuda Championship a few years ago. I was on the putting green late at night with Vaughn Taylor, and he played it for a bit, and we had some bites from some other guys. We really got some traction in 2019 when Kelly Slater, the surfer, put one in his bag. Kelly is really close friends with Adam Scott, and he turned Adam on to the putter. That really started turning some heads. Over the last four years, Adam was the only player in THE PLAYERS Championship using one. In 2024, we had nine players using one at THE PLAYERS. 

AG: You have a new model, the DF3. What is new and improved with the latest model?

SH: The original DF was just so big. Most of the feedback we got from people was that they could get over the look, but the size was a hang-up. People just wanted the same chassis, but smaller. So, we listened. We spent 18 months working on the design, traded out the more rounded contours for a more angular industrial look. The other feedback we would get was the back of the putter couldn’t be used to pick up the ball. My response was always that we design putters to pick balls out of the hole, not from next to it. So, we added the gimme getter on the back so you can pick up the ball. We just wanted the stable experience without giving up the forgiveness.